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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

SUSPENSE: Dan Festerman writes truly novel spy novel

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Baltimore's Dan Festerman has stirred up some first-rate post-9/11 spy intrigue in previous outings, but The Double Game (Knopf, 368 pages, $32) is a tasty secrets-never-die Cold War retrospective with a wheels-within-wheels contemporary twist.

An ex-journo is enticed by an unknown handler into pursuing the truth about an aging spy novelist and former CIA boss who may have been a double agent. The hook: the perilous bread-crumb trail across Eastern Europe is rife with classic spy-book clues. It's not often that a genre novel is truly novel, but this one is.

-- -- --

Watching the Dark, by Peter Robinson (McClelland & Stewart, 416 pages, $30): The Toronto fixture's 20th Banks case finds the affable Yorkshire inspector and his partner, DI Annie Cabbot, investigating the back-to-back murders of a cop and an undercover Estonian reporter. They soon discover links to immigrant-worker abuses and the six-year-old disappearance of a local teen.

It's now apparent that Robinson has adopted a shrewd schedule -- paying the bills by churning out competent police procedurals as comfort food for legions of Banks fans, then flexing his literary muscles with superior standalones like last year's Before the Poison. If so, it's an honourable and reader-friendly regimen.

The Absent One, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dutton, 416 pages, $29): Dour Danish cold-case cop Carl Morck is back, reluctantly reopening the 20-year-old murders of teen siblings. It's a cat-and-mouse game rather than a whodunit -- the clear culprits are a gang of wealthy students who continue their psychopathic ways into adulthood.

It's not as quirky or humorous as last year's Morck debut, The Keeper of Lost Causes, but retains the terrific set-piece character portrait -- Kimmie, once the most warped of the perps but now bent on revenge, is worth the price of admission.

The Prophet, by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown, 416 pages, $29): The Crown Prince of Creepy doffs his supernatural circlet in favour of a finely textured morality play that is truly Shakespearean in scope: Two estranged brothers -- one a revered, God-fearing high-school football coach, the other a ne'er-do-well bail bondsman -- are driven by guilt over their sister's decades-old murder to solve a new slaying in which they are unwittingly complicit.

A young American author who refuses to be pigeon-holed, Koryta eschews the fashionable prurience of yet another psycho-killer anatomy lesson and proves he can serve up both terror and tragedy with equal vigour and élan.

A Foreign Country, by Charles Cumming (St. Martin's, 368 pages, $29): This up-and-coming Brit's fifth espionage entry finds a cashiered MI6 agent trying to sidetrack a nasty (zut alors!) French operation to sandbag the incoming U.K. intelligence queen. A solid page-turner that goes beyond the usual suspects.

The Survivor, by Gregg Hurwitz (St. Martin's, 384 pages, $30): Diagnosed with a fatal disease, traumatized by the Iraq War and estranged from his family, Nate Overbay is on a bank ledge, ready to jump. Then he improbably foils a holdup, putting him squarely in the sights of a Ukrainian gangster who desperately wants something from a safety-deposit box.

The perilous escapade that follows is pure action-movie fodder, but more creative and engaging than most of its ilk.

TAKE A PASS

Bones Are Forever, by Kathy Reichs (Simon & Schuster, 304 pages, $30): Despite the title, Reichs is way, way beyond her best-before date. No less tiresome for its Canadian settings and themes (N.W.T. diamonds, murdered and missing Alberta aboriginal women, dead Montreal babies), this one is just ... off.

Trust Your Eyes, by Linwood Barclay (Doubleday, 512 pages, $22): From Hogtown's Jimmy Patterson wannabe, more Yankee-derived Ripley's Believe It or Not fantasy. Not.

Freak, by Jennifer Hillier (Gallery, 352 pages, $29): America's Next Top Model With Knives. Caricature-driven, shamelessly prurient and yet banal. Oh lord, deliver us from the serial-killer plague!

John Sullivan is editor of the Free Press Autos, Homes and Travel sections and specialty websites.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2012 J9

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